Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Smoking Ban Referendum: What are your rights?

I know a couple of people are curious as to why I voted against putting a non-binding smoking ban referendum on the Nov. 4th ballot. After all, don’t I want to know how the people in my district feel about smoking in Kenosha?

Of course I want to know and I have spoken to many of you about the smoking ban referendum.

The question is- was this a good referendum to put on the ballot?

Normally I try not to use this website as a sounding board for my job as one of Kenosha’s aldermen. That was until I realized that many of my constituents read this page on a pretty regular basis.

There are a ton of reasons why I voted against placing the smoking ban on the ballot this November.

First problem, the referendum will serve no purpose to advance the conversation forward. It is a non-binding referendum. Certainly many folks, myself included, would love to see this as a binding referendum. However, legally we cannot put a binding referendum on the ballot. We currently have a smoking ban ordinance in Kenosha that is more limited than the one being proposed. We cannot place a referendum on the ballot that would directly affect the current city ordinance. Since it is non-binding, this issue is still open to debate and will be debated in the Public Safety and Welfare committee this November, no matter how the referendum turns out.

Second problem, the referendum is too broad. The referendum covers “all workplaces”. The actual referendum reads “Should the Common Council for the city of Kenosha be advised to prohibit smoking at all workplaces?” “All workplaces” include a salesman that works out of his house. So, the government is attempting to ban smoking is a person’s home. “All workplaces” include a farm worker bouncing around on his tractor. A police officer cannot hand a cigarette to a suspect to try and settle them down- that is a workplace also.

This referendum is so broad that I am afraid we (the city council) will learn very little from the outcome. If the referendum fails, does it mean that the folks in the city want no smoking restrictions at all in Kenosha? If it passes, does it mean they only want restrictions at certain workplaces?

What if the vote is close?

See what I mean- this gives us no direction at all.

Lastly- I believe in the rights of every American citizen. For government, at any level, to reach in and try to throttle the rights of citizens on their own private property is absolutely wrong. Law enforcement would not dream of invading a home or business without a search warrant. However, we want to be able to dictate to law abiding private property owners that smoking cannot take place on their property.

Smoking is not illegal. I know plenty of folks do not like the bad habit, but smoking is still not illegal.

The referendum may be able to provide a peek into how the people feel about smoking, but it does little to move the conversation forward.

No matter what the outcome is on November 4th of this referendum, the decisions on how to proceed will still sit in the hands of the City Council’s Public Safety and Welfare Committee. From there the debate continues to the entire City Council.

It is awesome that so many have chosen to jump into the debate and it is great that the people get a chance to speak on this through a referendum. I am very interested to know where the people of Kenosha’s 5th district stand on this issue.

The question that each of us has to answer as we enter into the voting booth on November 4th is whether or not it is appropriate for the city government to reach into private business and homes and dictate whether or not they should be allowed to smoke.

A few months ago, I stood and swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin. I take that oath very seriously.

My district and all those in the city of Kenosha demand that their elected leaders uphold these Constitutions, no matter how anyone personally feels about smoking.

This issue is bigger than whether or not you like cigarette smoke, this is about your rights as an American citizen. Do you support your government intruding on the rights of any private property owner?

Kathy Carpenter
5th District-Kenosha

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